Astronaut vs sailor – who’s better connected? – an annotated infographic

May 20, 2016

 

A nice Friday afternoon infographic supplied by our friends at Media works and Global Navigation Solutions, illustrating the connectivity woes of sailors at sea. All you land-lovers should feel thankful you are never far from a reliable WiFi signal, some people aren’t so lucky.

Using findings from the 2015 Crew Connectivity Survey and information from NASA and The Atlantic, the piece details just how well connected sailors are – the answer being a resounding ‘not very’.

Sea Life vs. Space Life FULL (2) (3)

E&T news weekly #95 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 20, 2016

Friday 20 May 2016

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Twitter’s 140-character limit to exclude photos and links

I can’t help but feel a little sceptical about this, seeing as how I commented on a very similar Twitter story back when I first started working for E&T several months ago. I was so full of hope that I could utilise the full force of the oh-so-pathetic 140-character Twitter ration without having to worry about my excellent photos snatching away my precious rant space. Have you any idea how many incredibly important Tweets have been cut short by this ridiculous limit? Too many! And I’m not just referring to my daily Hulk Hogan fan mail #Hulkamaniawillliveforever. Seriously, social media is one of the best ways to get a reaction from companies guilty of horrendously poor customer service, but have you ever tried to properly complain about anything on Twitter? It’s impossible! Unless of course you want to split your rant over several separate Tweets, which kinda ruins the effect if you ask me. Maybe one day Twitter will actually get their act together and stop ‘suggesting’ these things and actually do them.

De-cluttering robot shows unexpected creativity

Carnegie Mellon University has developed new software to help robots cope with unexpected clutter, an area where machines normally fall short. While robots on production lines are able to de-clutter to a certain extent, they are only programmed to recognise specific types of ‘clutter’. The new software, however, programmes robots to understand the basic physics of the world, and so predict which types of materials can be pushed, lifted, or stepped on. Perfect problem-solving skills when it comes to adapting to unexpected situations, like exploring distant planets, or cleaning out an over-filled broom cupboard. I’m normally ever so excited by robot stories, and this one looked really promising. There are few things I love more than robots, and few things I like less than clutter, so a de-cluttering robot sounds like it could well be best friend material. That said, I am slightly perturbed by the fact that the test robot showed creativity and carried out tasks that it had not been taught to do, and that one of the researchers described the robot as “exploiting sort of superhuman capabilities”. Tell me, is that exciting, or terrifying?

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Carbon fibre plug-in ferry to clean up tourism in Norwegian fjords

When you think of carbon fibre speed, what comes to mind? Racing cars careering around curves at several hundred miles per hour perhaps? Or even a super-light track bike flying around velodrome? How about a ferry cruising the Norwegian Fjords? We kid you not. This electric-diesel hybrid really looks the part too. This is no rusting steel hulk.

EasyJet’s GPS smart shoes to guide geeks around cities

Wearables is a technology trend high on the hype curve and attracting the attention of a wide range of brands from a wide range of industries; clothing and sports names as well as the consumer electronics giants. Now an airline is getting into the wearables market with training shoes to help you find your way around strange cities. EasyJet’s Sneakers, which come in the airline’s trademark orange, connect wirelessly to a smartphone app and vibrate to let you know which way to turn so you don’t have to keep looking at maps on your phone screen. The drawback? Well, they come in EasyJet orange.

Smart energy meters vulnerable to hackers, claims Labour MP

Security, privacy and data ownership are important issues in the development of smart cities and indeed the wider internet of things area in general. Shadow minister Chi Onwurah raised questions in Parliament about all three with respect to smart meters, claiming they remained vulnerable to hackers. The smart city offers an exciting future with so many possibilities but these three overlapping issues will come up again and again.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
De-cluttering robot shows unexpected creativity

I love the photo accompanying this story. The robot in the frame looks absolutely ready to sort the heck out of the clutter in front of it, no problem. This is a step forward, as until now robots have found dealing with disordered environments challenging. The new software developed by researchers helps the robots deal with clutter more efficiently – and the robots have responded in kind by creatively dealing with problems in unexpected ways.

Camera-equipped robot hand demonstrates spatial awareness

Another robot story this week, and another breakthrough for robot dexterity. Attaching a camera to a robot’s hand has been shown to give it superior awareness of the space around it, due to the rapid generation of a 3D model of its immediate environment. With this finer gauge of spatial awareness, the robot is better enabled to more precisely squeeze its arm into tight spaces or pick up delicate objects. They’ll be picking and packing our soft fruit harvests before you know it.

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Android Pay launches in the UK

The UK launch of Android Pay sees Google trying to keep pace with Apple but not managing to deliver a service as easy to use as its rivals. Android Pay went from non-existent in the UK to accessible on almost all terminals where Apple Pay is available in the space of about 24 hours. An impressive feat admittedly and one that, considering its scale, was surprisingly without any leaks until a day or two before it happened. But it is missing one key feature that Apple Pay has embraced since the start, smartwatch compatibility. With many questioning the utility of smartwatches, being able to pay with it is, I would argue, a strong case for why they are more than just another gadget that you have to update every year or so. The Apple Watch, for all its foibles, has been compatible with Apple Pay since its UK launch (if not the American launch since it wasn’t publicly available then). It seems like an oversight by Google who should be pushing its Android Wear platform as hard as possible right now, especially considering the relative popularity of the Apple Watch which, within just a year of launch, now sells more than all the Android Wear watches combined.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
De-cluttering robot shows unexpected creativity

Outside the ordered world of automated production lines, clutter is a fact of life – and certainly a fact of my life. Now robots have been trained to find their way in disordered or confused surroundings. With the help of software, they even have “some idea of what can be pushed, lifted or stepped on”. That might work on the surface of a distant planet (one suggested application), but the real test will be to safely traverse a teenager’s bedroom.

Pakistan biogas project replaces diesel with faeces fuel

The fuel in question is a biogas produced from buffalo dung. It’s used to power irrigation pumps converted from diesel operation, and cooking stoves too. It saves money for the farmers and on a large enough scale it would reduce national dependency on imported diesel. To me it sounds like a brilliant idea – though it’s currently a pilot project backed by Pakistan’s Punjab provincial government, so it remains to be seen whether it would be economically viable without subsidies.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Carbon fibre plug-in ferry to clean up tourism in Norwegian fjords

It’s nice to see a company pushing for a more environmentally conscious approach without being forced to do that by a regulator. The Norwegians value their natural treasures and have realised that decades-old diesel-powered boats dumping waste directly into the pristine waters of their fjords are only going to cause harm. One of the country’s major tourism operators has thus challenged a local shipyard to build a ferry that would be able to run completely emission free. The result is the Vision of the Fjords, an impressive ultralight vessel made of carbon fibre and powered by hybrid technology that can run on its batteries for long enough to cross the most precious parts of a UNESCO-protected fjord without producing a gramme of CO2.

EasyJet’s GPS smart shoes to guide geeks around cities

Travelling tech geeks may soon get a new gadget to help them explore foreign cities. Instead of staring into the smartphone screen to get around with the help of Google maps, the travellers would be able to put on EasyJet’s vibrating smart shoes to learn where to turn and where to stop. The first city, where the technology has been trialled is Spain’s avant-garde metropolis Barcelona.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Banana waste could power Ecuador and offset fossil fuels

Bananas are one of the most important – and tasty – fruit crops in the world. Just in Asia and America in 2013, a total of 106 million tons of bananas were produced. But there’s of course the question of banana waste – and processing waste from banana production could cover more than half of the electricity needs of some regions of Ecuador. This country has been struggling with fossil fuel dependence and vulnerability of electricity supplies. Now researchers from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) in Spain have found that up to 55 per cent of the region’s electricity needs could be met if waste products such as stems, leaves and fruit not fit for selling were processed by a biomass power plant – and also that Ecuador could cover up to 10 per cent of its bioethanol needs using banana waste. Now if that works, there will be less risk of falling while accidentally stepping on banana peels on the ground, as they will all be used for a good cause.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Origami robot unfolds inside a human body for medical treatment

On the face of it, this sounds as much like the stuff of nightmares as an autonomous crawling robot for carrying out colonic examinations that I vividly remember hearing described in buttock-clenching detail at a medical engineering conference a few years ago. That did at least have the reassuring feature of a fibre-optic ‘tail’ which carried images from an on-board camera and could be used to retrieve the device if things went wrong. This much smaller gizmo from MIT is untethered and once inside the digestive tract is moved by the application of external magnetic fields. Two external layers sandwich a material that shrinks when heated, allowing it to be initially compressed into a swallowable pill before unfolding once it’s embarked on its fantastic voyage. Good news for parents is that one of the expected applications is to retrieve those tiny, tasty-looking but dangerous things that small children have a habit of gobbling down within seconds of getting their hands on them. It’s already been used in tests to remove a swallowed button battery from an artificial stomach.

Luxury cruise to conquer Northwest Passage – #climatechange win for pointless tourism – an annotated infographic

May 18, 2016

The first large-scale passenger cruise ship – the disingenuously named Crystal Serenity – is scheduled to sail through the Northwest Passage, the Arctic sea route made navigable by steadily shrinking ice cover. The route has never before been attempted by a ship of this size.

Whether this is a marvelous new opportunity for regular Joes to traverse the Arctic region in relative comfort or a sad and damning indictment of climate change irrevocably erasing a pristine natural wilderness, we’ll leave that for you to decide.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Crystal Serenity: nippy

Crystal Serenity: nippy

New issue of E&T Magazine now online – the Smart City issue – do you live in one?

May 18, 2016

Where is the smartest city in the world? What does it look like today? How will it look in the future? These are the questions we set out to answer in our Smart City issue.

Conceptually, the Smart City lies where the Internet of Things meets the future of built environment, renewables, transport and growing city populations. Sensors in everything, big data and fast communications networks will provide more efficient use of shared resources, a more pleasant city environment and unimaginable new services. Life will be very different in the future city. Apparently.

This has got us wondering what life will be like in the rural outposts of this green and pleasant land. As smart as London or Manchester get, when you’re up a wet hill on the moors in the dark, life will remain resolutely simple, grim and forbidding.

Smart City: black and white cover

Smart City: black and white cover

E&T news weekly #94 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 13, 2016

Friday 13 May 2016

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Methane-capture clothes developed to absorb greenhouse gases

Everything it seems is going ‘smart’ but that term can mean lots of things. Usually, that means putting ‘intelligence’ – through integrating electronics and software – into otherwise ordinary products, but sometimes it implies it’s clever in another way, being better for the environment for example. Smart clothing usually means wearable electronics but a few research projects are working on sustainable clothing made out of textiles that incorporates greenhouse gases. This can have a double benefit in that it acts as a ‘sink’ for those gases but also a substitute for something else derived from fossil fuels. The catch? They haven’t actually made any yet – it’s just an idea. But it’s a smart one.

Nissan trials system to power National Grid with electric vehicles

One problem with micro-generation installations like rooftop solar panels or wind turbines is that you don’t always get the power where and when you need it. Storage is expensive. Big batteries don’t come cheap. But wait! The increasingly popular electric cars all have big batteries in them and there only used for driving part of the time. So why not use all those big batteries parked in garages and driveways to store excess generated power for later use, where and when it’s really needed. That’s fine in principle but it’s easier said than done. Here’s one trial about to discover how feasible it is in practice.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
‘Star Wars’ helmet detects concussion in the field

There I was, getting all excited that it was a genuine Star Wars helmet. Alas, I was fooled, as it only looks like a badly home-made imitation of it. It reminds me of the kind of DIY you would do if you hadn’t made your Halloween costume in advance for the party, realising you only had two hours to whip up something, but you only had a bowl, glue, little bits of junk and lots of metallic spray paint. Apart from that, this piece of equipment that some Norwegian folks have cooked up could make a real, positive difference to the speed of detecting concussions and other head injuries. The prototype looks-like-something-from-the-Rebel-Alliance-but-not-really helmet is designed to be a portable EEG scanner, which is fast at diagnosing concussion. Head injuries are a big worry at accident scenes, contact sports such as rugby and in the military, where diagnoses are needed fast for optimum treatment and recovery. The helmet may increase the survival rate of patients with head trauma, and cut risks of strokes. The 4.5kg helmet has electrodes, with an elastic membrane that is applied to the scalp. All very techy. I’m going to go fly my X-Wing now.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Gas attack experiment tested in New York subway

Younger readers won’t remember this, but members of a Japanese cult carried out a nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo Metro in 1995 that killed 12 people and severely injured 50 more. It’s likely, then, that transport authorities in the world’s major cities have given some thought before now to how they would protect their systems. That depends on understanding the threat. This latest experiment is part of that process. When New York commuters see those sensors benignly labelled ‘air flow study’ it might trigger a frisson of alarm, but it ought to be reassuring.

Mars wind farm to power 100 per cent of UK operations

It’s an eye-catching headline, no matter how quickly you reject that first image of a wind farm on the Red Planet. Food manufacturer Mars, known for its space-themed confectionery products the Mars bar, Milky Way and Galaxy, has signed an energy deal with the operator of a Scottish wind farm that will see as much renewable energy put into the grid as Mars consumes across all its 12 UK sites. Put like that it’s just another electricity contract – but it’s still a pretty good headline.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Personal plane that takes off like helicopter to take to skies in 2018

The canny German start-up behind this attempt to, as they put it, “develop an aircraft for everyday life”, compare the space it would need to take off and land as being roughly the size of a modest back garden and the 20 hours of training needed to pilot it to the time they reckon it takes to be good enough to pass the UK driving test. So even if you’ve never envied those literal high-fliers zipping in and out of their country estate in a helicopter you could aspire to doing pretty much the same thing with much less effort and investment. It all sounds like the scenario that 1950s illustrations of what the world would be like in the 21st century promised us, with Dad zipping off to work in his flying car while Mum touches down neatly outside school to drop the kids off. All within a couple of years, apparently. Be prepared to look up jealously at your next door neighbour heading off to the office oblivious to the traffic jam you’re stuck in down below. If only the general standard of driving on Britain’s roads filled me with confidence that letting the same people loose in the sky isn’t going to lead to something more serious than the bumps and shunts that have become an everyday part of driving.

Nissan trials system to power National Grid with electric vehicles

For those of us happy to keep our feet, and our wheels, on the ground, there’s the prospect of our cars becoming mobile energy hubs, storing electricity generated from renewables and feeding it back into the grid as necessary. It’s actually a chicken and egg situation, in that take up of electric vehicles, while not spectacular, still threatens to put a strain on the grid as increasing numbers of owners need to charge up batteries enough to assuage any range anxiety they may feel. National Grid reckons that by 2020 there could be 700,000 EVs out there, requiring an additional 500MW of capacity to keep them running. Vehicle-to-grid technology – or V2G as it’s known in industry – looks to be a smart solution. It’s a long way from the hundred cars taking part in this initial trial to hundreds of thousands, but that’s no reason not to give it a try.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Smartphone use causing ‘separation anxiety’ and ADHD

Have you ever left home for the day and forgotten your mobile phone? Have you realised this on your route to work – and wondered if you’ve gone too far to turn back to get it? I have. The thought has actually crossed my mind that I may go all the way back home for my phone so I could text someone to tell them that I’m now late meeting them. It’s ridiculous! I feel completely lost without my phone – but not for Facebook or news reasons. It’s the fear of perhaps being needed urgently and not being able to get to my phone if there’s an emergency. But, if it was a true emergency, I can be contacted in other ways too. So why does not having my phone with me make me feel nothing but dread? (Yes, I know, I’m Gen-Y, blah blah blah, whatever). I’d feel lost and slightly bereft but I’m not sure I would become completely hyperactive. Steve Jobs was right – smartphones have changed everything in society. I know I’m not guilty of being so addicted to my phone that I’ve walked into a lamp post though – I mean come on guys! They’re just phones, right? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check my tweets.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Autonomous vehicles may lead to UK driving test changes

You know, in all the excitement surrounding the accelerated development of autonomous vehicles, it has never occurred to me – until now – that the driving test as we know it could become obsolete, or at the very least require substantial overhaul and revision. Of course, there will still be a requirement for human drivers to understand the laws of the road and demonstrate competence and confidence behind the wheel, but when our cars are doing the majority of the work in keeping us safe on the road, new rules will be required.

Gas attack experiment tested in New York subway

Anonymous government operatives in high-vis tabards unleashing a visible gas cloud during rush hour in some of New York City’s busiest subway stations does sound like a recipe for mass panic, but the tests this week by the US Department of Homeland Security was designed to better understand how gas spreads inside New York’s intricate subway network, in the event of a terrorist attack or toxic leak. The researchers released the gas at three key stations and will be checking for particles of the gas emerging at 55 other Manhattan subway locations.

North Korea succeeds in firing ballistic missile vertically from submarine – an annotated infographic

May 5, 2016

Analysts say North Korea’s latest test launch of a KN-11 missile shows Pyongyang has succeeded in developing “cold launch” technology, which means it can fire a ballistic missile vertically from a submarine.

The sub-launched KN-11 ballistic missile is powered by the newly developed high-power solid fuel engine.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Sub-atomic

Sub-atomic

IET events this May – #engineering and technology dates for your diary

May 5, 2016

May

This month the IET’s local and technical networks are holding a great variety of events – many of which will interest students and young engineers.

There are a number of courses and workshops available for example, covering everything from negotiation and presenting through to technical report writing and TRIZ problem-solving methodology.

In addition there is an assortment of technical visits taking place both in the UK and overseas, giving the technically-minded a chance to go inside businesses such as GKN Aerospace, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Air Salvage International and Renishaw PLC.

Present Around the World local heats and regional finals continue this month, but the renowned international presentation contest isn’t the only competition taking place. The IET Satellite Systems and Applications Network has launched its Best Poster Competition, which challenges entrants to create a poster on game changing satellite applications and their commercialisation, and the end of May sees the deadline for applications to the IET’s Apprentice and Technician Awards.

Below are a few of our highlights for the month, but be sure to check out the full IET events listings to find out about everything taking place near you.

 

05 May, Present Around the World heat, Amesbury, competition

05 May, The engineering of craft beer, Dublin, social

07 May, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Abingdon, visit

09 May, Lifeskills – effective negotiation, Loughborough, workshop

10-11 May, Technical report writing, Manchester, course

10 May, Renishaw PLC, Cardiff, visit

11 May, Membership clinic, Preston, workshop

11 May, Air NZ Maintenance Hanger, Christchurch, visit

12 May, Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL), Singapore, visit

13 May, East Midlands IET Charity Golf tournament, East Goscote, social

16 May, Webinar – Back to basics with presenting, online, course

17-19 May, Finance and accounting, London, course

19 May, Laser projection for cinema, Stockport, lecture

21 May, Coding the future, Co Londonderry, workshop

24 May, Ethics for engineers, London, course

25 May, Continuing professional development, Glasgow, workshop

28 May, IET Trinidad and Tobago Present Around the World final, St. Augustine, competition

Out and about: E&T’s pick of #technology #events in May

May 3, 2016

Activities for all ages taking place during May. As always, check in advance with the organiser’s website for current details about start time, and whether there’s any charge or need to register.

 Above and Beyond

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 27 May –29 August

Experience what space flight is really like and glimpse into its future in the National Maritime Museum’s new family-friendly, interactive exhibition, sponsored by Boeing, which opens for the Summer this month. Design and race your own supersonic jet, take an elevator ride to the edge of space and enjoy the view of Earth from above, or go on a marathon to Mars and see how your body would cope on the long-haul trip to the red planet. Recommended for ages 7+, ‘Above and Beyond’ is packed with immersive simulations, participative design challenges and visionary concepts that will help visitors get up-close and personal with the technology that makes air and space travel possible.

 IAC Open Days

Queensway Meadows, Newport, Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 May

Users and suppliers of industrial control equipment will converge on Industrial Automation and Control’s Newport works for an exhibition featuring more than 30 displays of equipment including variable-speed drives, motors, sensors, programmable controllers, communications, motion control and machine safety. Among the big hitters due to be attending and exhibiting are Siemens, ABB, Sick (UK), Wittenstein, Mersen, IFM Electronic, Pilz, Underwoods, ABB Low Voltage, DP Fabrications, Eldon, Parmley Graham and Cembre. The two day event showcases a company recognised as one of the UK’s leading systems integrators. Entry is free with catering provided, although pre-registration is essential.

Digital 2016

Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales, 6-7 June

Digital 2016 brings together more than 2000 delegates from a wide range of industry sectors, all within the digital sphere; to be enlightened, to network, to be inspired, and to do business. Explore the world of new technology, hear from inspirational industry leaders, interact with the latest tech and network with a mass of like-minded business leaders. Whilst tech is the constant thread, there’s a focus on how it’s is revolutionising the way we live and do business by addressing themes such as tech, skills, security and funding. Day 1 is for those curious about how technology is shaping our future and revolutionising the way we live and do business, while Day 2 will help you understand how you can drive growth in your business by engaging digital skills To help get your business equipped with digital skills there’s an IT bootcamp and coding workshops

The Lean Startup Summit London

Level39, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, 16-18 May

The Lean Startup philosophy was first proposed by entrepreneur/author Eric Ries in the book ‘The Lean Startup’ and has since been applied to any individual, team, or company looking to introduce new products or services into the market. Today, the methodology is a common practice used all over the world and The Lean Startup Summit London brings together entrepreneurs and corporate innovators who seek ways of working that support continuous innovation and sustainable growth. Themes and keynote speakers are based on host Level39’s verticals –  Fintech, Cyber Security, Smart Cities and Retail Solutions – and the organisers are taking the 50/50 pledge to showcase an equal share of men’s and women’s voices.

{Open}:Hack @ tmformlive!

Nice, France, 6-7 May

A unique opportunity to bring your product or create new prototype apps working with an open ecosystem platform focused on building smart, sustainable cities. As well as experimenting with the open platform, open APIs, open data and creative new solutions exposed by others, attendees will have the chance to compete for prizes offered to the solutions that have the greatest impact to climate and smart city challenges affecting real citizens. Winners will get the opportunity to demo their application to a number of city directors and senior executives from around the globe at our flagship TM Forum Live event.

Mail Rail – the Post Office Underground Railway

Bromley Central Library, 3 May

What do you know about the Post Office former underground railway system in London and the plans for its future ? This talk, jointly organised by the IET’s London and South East: Kent local networks, will describe the line that ran between Whitechapel and Paddington from 1927 until 2003 and plans to possibly reopen it for public viewing.

Robots Helping People

IET, Savoy Place, 11 May

What do robots need to be able to effectively help people? How can we equip robots with the skills to understand human states, predict human intentions and assist in an intelligent and supportive manner? Using examples from his research at Imperial College’s Personal Robotics Laboratory, Professor Yiannis Demiris will describe how assistance personalisation is a key competence that future helper robots will need to possess in a lecture organised by the IET’s  London local network. Expect an interdisciplinary exploration of the field of personal robotics, drawing inspirations from intelligent sensing, machine learning, human factors, and robot design to give a glimpse of how robots can help people’s wellbeing.

 Science as Revolution: RTS/IET public lecture with Sir Paul Nurse

British Museum, London, 11 May

Science has brought about revolutionary changes in our understanding of ourselves and the natural world that have acted as major drivers of our culture and civilisation. This knowledge has in turn brought about revolutions in the ways that we live and in the technologies that support society. A case can be made that science is the most revolutionary activity of humankind. This year’s RTS/IET Public Lecture, to be delivered by Sir Paul Nurse, examines the ways in which science is changing the world and how the world needs to respond to these changes. Sir Paul will explain how scientific knowledge has brought about revolutions in the ways that we live and in the technologies that support society.

IET Tribology Tour: Bringing Tribology to Life

Coventry University, 12 May

In association with IET Local Networks, the IET Tribology Network is hosting a series of evening talks that bring tribology to life through real examples and case studies. The study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear – collectively known as tribology – is fundamental to energy production, manufacturing, healthcare and many other industries. Tribology underpins and sustains our economic competitiveness, environment and quality of life. Come along and find out how it opens up exciting and powerful paths to new technological solutions, improves the sustainability of products and systems, benefits the environment, and increases economic competitiveness

Building Efficiency

London, 13 May

Today’s UK portfolio of non-domestic buildings is where the future of UK prosperity is determined. So in order to meet the needs of the occupants, achieve carbon and energy reduction targets, and comply with legislation whilst keeping within the budgets imposed on them, building service engineers, FMs and energy managers have a mammoth task to keep a building functioning to all criteria imposed on them. This BSRIA event will look at the benefits of a business focused attitude towards maintenance strategy decision making, how benchmarking projects can be used in order to demonstrate evidence of improvements and how it can drive efficiency. Attendees will also find out how building performance evaluation can identify areas of good performance and also where there is a need for improvement.

 

Booker Park Community School, Aylesbury, 12 May,

Find out more about Schoolhaus, claimed to be the UK’s most energy-efficient school buildings, designed and developed by UK Energy Partners design and develop to be built and delivered by its construction division, Net Zero Buildings. The award-winning designs run at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions, generating energy and revenue through integrated solar PV roofs. Activities on the day include a building tour, presentations from expert speakers and case studies.

 

Big Ben falls silent – Great Clock undergoing repairs – an annotated infographic

April 29, 2016

The famous chimes of Big Ben are to fall silent after 157 years of nearly unbroken service.

The Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster in London needs urgent repairs as part of a £30m project to prevent its mechanism from failing. The tower will be partially covered in scaffolding for three years from 2017, although engineers plan to keep at least one of the four clock faces always visible.

The bells will fall silent for several months, chiming only for important events, a House of Commons statement said.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

I say, ding dong

I say, ding dong

E&T news weekly #92 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 29, 2016

Friday 29 April 2016

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Driverless vehicles worry Brits as UK automotive sector soars

This poll showing that most Briton’s are concerned about driverless vehicles shows why you should never let the public make decisions about subjects they don’t fully understand (*cough* EU referendum *cough*). According to the poll of 1000 British motorists, 65 per cent are unsure about the new technology, probably for no reason other than being scared of new, unfamiliar things, like foreign countries and their inhabitants for example. Driverless vehicles are shown to be safer than human drivers for a number of reasons. Other than the obvious advantages of having a powerful computer constantly analysing the environment around the car for dangers and obstacles, driverless cars don’t get tired after a long day at work, they don’t lose concentration worrying about the mundanities of their daily life, and they never accidentally get too hammered at the computer pub and drive back overconfident while making miscalculations about their distance from other vehicles. Humans are the real danger on British roads. Contrary to the recent poll, I think that a computer should always be behind the wheel; in fact steering wheels should be removed from vehicles altogether in order to eliminate the risk factors associated with the many, many shortcomings of human drivers.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Electric cars at heart of Volkswagen transformation

Really, what else could VW do than publicly embrace a new automotive technology? When you’ve foolishly shot your own diesel business in the foot, you’d be well advised to limp in another direction. Handily, the electric vehicle market is undeniably the future and is poised to blossom in terms of sales, especially if any of the proposed EU government incentives encouraging consumers to buy electric cars finally pay off. I, for one, am certainly interested in buying a VW Budd-E Microbus, if that ever comes to market, and if my government is prepared to bung me a few thousand quid as an incentive to do so, sign me up and plug me in.

Whiplash injuries tackled with active seat system

I enjoyed this story for its illuminating description of how and why whiplash injuries occur. Now I know this, they make perfect sense. When your body is heading in one direction while your neck goes off in another, that’s clearly a recipe for debilitating pain. Which, in turn, makes this Loughborough University research model for a safer car seat – one that works with the forces influencing your head and torso – also perfectly sensible. The short video accompanying this story clearly explains the thinking behind it.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Computers in German nuclear plant infected with virus

Perhaps this story isn’t surprising, but it’s a warning all the same. Computer viruses spread just as insidiously as their biological counterparts, and good hygiene is essential. I’m willing to bet that none of the staff plugging USB sticks into their office computers believed they were infected – the symptoms only showed up later. Fortunately the plant operator, RWE, kept its administrative IT network separate from the power plant control system, but you can’t be too careful.

Robot monk spreading Buddhist teachings in China

I’ll be honest. I’ve picked this story because I like the picture. I doubt if the cute ‘robot monk’ will convert any convinced non-believers to religion, but visitors to the temple near Beijing can ask basic questions about Buddhist belief and practice without any fear of embarrassment, and anything that helps spread knowledge and understanding must be a good thing.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
South African rhinos protected by high-tech network

I love rhinos. They’re wonderful things. They look like armour-clad warriors with the thickest plated skin. And they have majestic, lethal horns. I would give them a good old cuddle if I didn’t think I’d get gored to death or stamped on until my brain oozed out of my skull. The calves are adorable too. Little bundles of 65kg cuteness. Drones, thermal cameras and motion sensors are being installed in a South Africa natural park to try and protect them from poachers. I hate poachers. I’d love it if they got gored to death or stamped on until their brains oozed out of their skulls. The supposed healing properties of rhino horn – which is essentially compacted hair – makes them targets, and they’re brutally slaughtered for it – 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014 in SA. Absolutely ridiculous. That’s even when they’re monitored and looked after by rangers. Rhino deaths could take over their births by 2018 and they could be completely wiped out by 2025. Such an ancient, stupid myth and the utter ignorance and foolishness of some people is to blame for the demise of these great herbivores. Hopefully, the system will help reduce the death toll and rhinos can plod along on their merry way without having to worry about being attacked by soulless humans. Unicorns are real. They’re just big, grey and grumpy.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Driverless vehicles worry Brits as UK automotive sector soars

Apparently, 65 per cent of British motorists believe a human should always be in control of a vehicle despite the development of driverless cars, according to a new poll. As the industry faces a huge boom in driverless technology appearing more frequently, it looks like driverless cars are really on the horizon, and it’s making people a tad nervous. Can you blame us, seeing as there are so may grey areas still to be sorted out legally? If you have an accident with a driverless vehicle, who’s at fault? I’m assuming many of them would be fitted with cameras, but how will insurance companies keep up with the new legal pitfalls that are likely to arise from this? The study also found that people liked the fact that driverless cars would not be allowed to tailgate. Yay! But how many people will tailgate driverless vehicles just to see what would happen?

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Egg-based memristor paves way for dissolvable body sensors

Durability is important for electronics, but sometimes we need components that don’t have to last very long. A team of scientists from China and the UK created a chip, or rather a memristor (memory resistor), that simply dissolves after its work is done. And they made it with the help of eggs – or specifically, diluted egg albumen, the clear part of an egg that turns white when it’s cooked. The researchers spun the albumen on a silicon wafer to produce a super-thin film. Then they put electrodes made from magnesium on one side of the film, and those made from tungsten on the other side – materials that are natural and dissolvable. The device is used to regulate the flow of electric current and can also remember charges, and the work paves the way for dissolvable sensors that in future could be used inside the human body.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
High-tech buoys prevent illnesses from filthy water

As one of the researchers from Michigan State University behind this new approach to helping holidaymakers keep clear of water-borne illnesses explains, taking samples from a beach then sending them off to a test lab is just too slow. By the time you find out that you shouldn’t have gone for that bracing swim yesterday you’ve probably already spent a very uncomfortable night. The MSU technique uses buoys fitted with sensors that work like labs floating offshore and testing water quality continuously in real time for contaminants like E coli bacteria. It’s not clear how anyone thinking of taking a dip would be alerted; I’m imagining a scenario a little like ‘Jaws’ where a foghorn sounds and there’s a mad stampede to clear the water. More likely, it’ll be like the Blue Flag system we’re familiar with in the UK but operating on a day-by-day basis. Whichever, it would save a lot of people from having their holidays spoiled by a bout of swimming-related gastric trouble.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Queen birthday message etched on corgi hair strand

Last Friday the whole of the UK joined hands in celebrating the 90th birthday of her Majesty the Queen, and what a day it was. The Queen must have received some fairly remarkable birthday presents – you don’t spend 63 years as the monarch of one of the most important nations on earth without making a few wealthy friends – but none seemed to receive as much media attention as this tiny little token. Yes, the University of Nottingham succeeded in giving the Queen the most bizarre birthday present in the history of the world, a single corgi hair inscribed with a personal birthday message. Would you call that thoughtful or just plain weird? Seriously, University of Nottingham, what were you thinking when you came up with this idea? I’ve received a few impractical birthday presents in my time, but a birthday message on a dog hair? That’s not only useless, but gross. I know you wanted to impress the queen but did you have to be so outrageously disgusting? Just look at that photo, it makes my skin crawl.

Robotic innovations on show at Hannover Messe 2016

This week I was lucky enough to attend the Hannover Messe trade fair and the robots on show blew my tiny little mind! This is just a little look at some of the robots that were displayed by industrial and automotive companies from around the world. Can you even begin to imagine anything cooler than a robotic rollercoaster? It was incredible! If you’re hungry for more head on over to E&T’s Twitter page and look out for #HM16 for more robotic innovations, including more than one gyrating hexapod!

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
South African rhinos protected by high-tech network

On average three rhinos are poached in South Africa every day. That means that if the current rate of poaching continues, the rate of rhino deaths will overtake the rate of rhino births in two years and there may be no rhinos in South Africa by 2025. That’s pretty upsetting, especially considering the fact that the only reason why these animals are being slaughtered is their horns and their presumed therapeutic or magic properties in traditional medicine in Asia. A new hope has arisen for rhinos in South Africa in the form of a new tech project that will enable monitoring the movements of people in an unnamed private reservation. The reserve will be turned into a highly protected security ward – no one will be able to get in or out without the rangers being immediately alerted. If it proves reliable, the system may be deployed in other natural parks as well.

Atmospheric water machine designed to solve water crisis

A machine that can make water from air even in very dry climates promises to solve the world’s water shortage. Certainly an interesting idea as the atmosphere is the only source of fresh water in many parts of the planet. The team said that we don’t need to worry about depleting the water from the air as everything gets naturally replenished from the ocean.


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